Seattle Classic Guitar Society
|The Early Years of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society, 1958-1967|
By Dick Sacksteder
|Sometime in 1958, no one remembers the exact date, Bud Hern put an article in the Seattle Times inviting interested persons to a meeting at Joe Farmer's music store in Burien. The purpose of the meeting was to meet other folks who played classical guitar. Six men showed up: Joe Farmer, Bob Flannery, Bill James, Ward Irwin, Bud Hern and Bob Morris They talked about guitars, music and technique. Joe and Bob played a few tunes. They decided to meet monthly and on their second meeting came up with the name Seattle Classic Guitar Society. The first meetings were held at Farmer's Music Store. Later they were moved to Seattle- first to a room in the basement of the bank at the corner of 47th and University Way, and then to a church in the University District. Who were these guys?
Joe farmer had taught guitar at Gerkie's Music store in Ballard in the late 1930's and early 1940's. He then moved to Burien where he started the music store and studio in his house. He played jazz guitar in dance bands around Seattle. Bob Flannery was teaching guitar in Ballard. He had studied with Aaron Shearer while Aaron still lived in Seattle. When Shearer moved to Washington D.C., Bob followed him. After Flannery returned to Seattle he occasionally played with the Ballet. The Seattle Symphony was looking for an oud player to accompany a Persian piece on their program. As there was no such person in Seattle, they hired Bob to accompany the orchestra on the guitar. He found it difficult to follow the conductorıs signals, as he had not played with an orchestra before. Thus he was one beat behind at times. Embarrassing! Bill James had gone into Broberg's music store on University Avenue to look at guitars. Mrs. Broberg, who had connections with the New York Classic Guitar Society, was knowledgeable about the guitar world. She took Bill in hand, sold him a Martin classic guitar and sent him off to a teacher, a Mrs. Hartley who taught in her home in the Ravenna district. She taught with the little finger resting on the top of the guitar and three fingers free. The action was more clawing than plucking. Scales were played with the thumb and first finger. It was hard to do and didn't sound very good to Bill. The big topic of discussion at that time was whether one played with or without nails. "No nails", said Mrs. Hartley. Bill soon found a new teacher, Bob Flannery. Ward Erwin came by the guitar naturally. In 1895, his father was playing in a guitar mandolin band in Ontario, Canada. Ward started out with his fatherıs Martin guitar, which still used treble gut strings. The strings were hard to keep tuned and broke often. He was self-taught using the Matteo Carcassi Method for the Guitar. He continued to buy and learn from every instruction book that came on the market. Ward built up a large library of bound sheet music and instruction books that he eventually donated to the Cornish Collage of the Arts. His friends say that Bud Hern had a great talent. They feel that with lessons from a good teacher he would have made a name for himself. Bob Morris was into sea kayaking and left the group shortly after that first meeting. As he wanted to make 100 sea kayaking trips up the west coast of Vancouver Island and beyond, he could no longer spend time with the guitar. While on his 97th trip he passed away, doing what he loved best, kayaking. We should all be so lucky!
Those early days were quite exciting. After each concert a reception was held at the home of one of the members. Irwin, Hern or James were often the hosts. When Segovia played in Seattle he always enjoyed these receptions. At the James' home, Bill's wife made a big meal for a very hungry Segovia. He would make any cook proud the way he put away a good meal. He spoke English, was very friendly and certainly enjoyed evenings with the Society members. The 1962 World's Fair brought Spanish Flamenco dancers and guitarists to Seattle. It was a wonderful opportunity for members of the Society to take lessons with these guitarists. A young John Williams, fresh from a tour of Japan, played his first U.S. concert in Seattle. After the concert he came to Bill's house for the reception and ended up spending the night. He was very protective of his hands and would not shake hands with anyone. Presti and Lagoya attended a reception at the Irwin's home. Lagoya wanted to play for the group. Irwin offered his Martin guitar. Lagoya played a few chords and gave it back. The interpreter told Ward that Lagoya had said the Martin was only good for firewood. As the remark was an aside, Ward was sure that Lagoya did not know that it had been translated. Ward understood that his Martin, a mass produced guitar, was no match for the handmade Spanish guitar that Lagoya played. Later Ward had the tapered, thick neck reshaped by the local guitar builder, Ladd Witcher. Wanting a better guitar Ward bought a Fleta directly from the builder. It did not live up to its reputation. The sound was subdued and had no resonance. It was finally sold. (Do you own it now?) The Society wanted to bring Seigfried Barron to Seattle. Each member put up $25 to pay his fee. They just about broke even. Rey de la Torre spent an evening with Society members. He was Cuban, and Castro was coming into power. Rey spent the entire evening talking, not guitar, but politics. The society brought the Romero's to Seattle for a concert. After the concert they came to the James' for the reception. Dad and the boys were down-to-earth folks. Pepe was just 17 years old at the time. It is remembered now as a very wonderful guitar evening.
As time went by it became harder to get the monthly programs together. There were not too many people in Seattle who played the classical guitar and those who did play felt that they were not good enough to perform before an audience. Finally, in 1967 the board met perhaps for the last time. Everyone had done their part and was burned out. Bud Hern, Bill James, Ward Irwin and Arnold Pearson, another early member who had given much to the Society, had all served as president. No one was willing to take over that job again. Duncan McKenna, who was attending his first meeting, finally stepped forward and volunteered for the job. Thus began the second phase of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society. To be Continued!